Love Is a Four-Letter Word

“You never loved me!”

I didn’t answer back. At the time, I didn’t know how. The accusation wasn’t true, yet there was truth in it. I had loved my ex-husband, even in that moment, but my love wasn’t that our-hearts-beat-as-one love. The soulmate, I-can’t-live-without-you “true” love.

You never loved me!

I felt the raw pain in his accusation. After three children and more than fifteen years of marriage, there it was, this half-truth squatting uncomfortably on the shards of our relationship.

That moment haunted me for years. The untrue truth didn’t prompt the demise of our marriage (we had other problems), yet for years, I struggled with the notion that I had a defect in my love gears that made me incapable of “true” love.

Is true love a childish fantasy or daydream? I don’t think so. I know couples who have “true” love, who feel they are soulmates. At times, I felt envious. I compared myself and wondered, “Why can’t I have that? Am I broken?”

In an effort to untangle the nature of my love mechanism and hoping to find out what was broken, I committed hours of thought and energy to these questions.  I looked in, but I also looked out.

Looking out, I became aware that assumptions often made about “true” love and other relationships fall apart on scrutiny. Couples who feel they are soulmates are not without their ups and downs and missteps. Even soulmates must work on right relationship. Couples who don’t fancy themselves soulmates can enjoy depth of commitment and compassion. Old solid relationships may still have embarrassing middle-school moments, and budding ones often work through hurdles with maturity and wisdom.


My parents paddling into the 60th year of their journey

Looking out, I confirmed what I already knew:

Romantic love comes in many sizes, shapes, and tones.


Looking in, I started defining the expectations I had going into a relationship and understanding the qualities I wanted in a partner and partnership. Pretty damn practical. Share in all things domestic, complete projects together yet have projects of our own, communicate with compassion and patience, journey together and journey apart. My list did not include requisites such as “must be my soulmate” or “I would die without him.”

The observations and introspection helped me understand that I wasn’t broken at all. Perhaps I guard my heart, perhaps my love is not “true” love as conceived by many. Yet I would argue that my love is true.

What makes it “true”?


I love my partner of ten years. We share, we fuss, we communicate, we have projects, we take trips, and we have independent interests and endeavors. Even though I don’t feel like we’re soulmates (he would argue we are), our love is good. True love? I would say that my love is true, yet I would hasten to point out that, were he to die tomorrow, I would not feel lost or devastated. I would be sad, deeply sad. I would mourn and grieve, but I would not fall apart. Is that because he’s not my soulmate? Is it because I guard my heart? I’m not sure what the answer is. I do believe, however, that the “trueness” of my love should not be measured by my dependence on the presence of that person.

For those who would accuse me of settling for a partner I can love instead of waiting for the soulmate I can’t live without, let me assure I didn’t settle. I chose. We chose each other. That said, I’m not writing this for those doubters. I’m writing this for the other people like me, who, at some point wondered if they were getting it all wrong, if they were incapable of true love, if they were broken because they couldn’t surrender their hearts with abandon. Perhaps our hearts are not wired for a soulmate quest or unfettered falls. Even so, our love is true.

Love is love.

We can make generalizations about love, define it, classify it, even qualify it. Those intellectual exercises confuse the love we live. I don’t believe in hard edges that define where you cross into or out of true love. Instead of ideals and definitions, I would have been better served as a young adult by this kind of advice:

  • Don’t chastise yourself if your love doesn’t fit a standard definition.
  • Observe others in love but don’t belittle your love for being different.
  • Your unique love journey should start from within, loving yourself, understanding your expectations and needs.
  • Be true to yourself and your love will be true.

My ex was a little right but mostly wrong. I did love him. In some ways I still do.

In the end, no matter what size, shape, or tone, love is love. Be true to it.

Copyright © 2015 (updated 2017) by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.

13 Replies to “Love Is a Four-Letter Word

  1. Sarah Harris |

    This is wonderful advice that should be passed down for years. Too often people judge their love against their parents, romantic comedies, celebrities, the honeymoon period then grow disheartened when it’s not that way. I love your advice to love yourself first and learn to communicate your needs. Also, if you know yourself better you know what your own deal breakers are and learn to maybe let some of the smaller stuff go so long as you still have the long-term goal intact.


    I’ve had a long relationship where I loved him, but he wasn’t the end all, be all. He was Mr. Right Now, and I knew he felt the same about me. My relationship with my late husband James was one of those once in a lifetime loves. His death devastated me. Question: Does your current nine year relationship know how you feel? Has he read this blog? I’m just wondering how HE feels about your admission.

    • Pennie Nichols

      Thanks for the comment and the question. Yes. I shared my blog with my partner before I posted it. I think he would like to believe we are soulmates, so I think there was a little sadness. But our relationship has been built on frankness, honesty, and candor, as well as tenderness and complicity. I think he appreciates that I can talk to him about this.

  3. Barbara Hammond

    I’ve been married for 47 years and when I tell someone that I add, ‘7 years of wedded bliss, not necessarily consecutive.’ I lived through multiple marriages/ relationships with my mother. She was always quick to leave after the first big fight. Leaving was more painful than working it out, in my opinion. No one lives in bliss for long. I’m glad I learned from her mistakes and stuck it out with my husband through good and bad.

  4. katykozee

    Love is so hard to define, especially for ourselves. The main thing, I guess, is to just make sure the love you share is good for both you and your partner and enhances both your lives.

  5. midlifecrisisqueen

    At age 60, I now see how much our definition of love evolves over a lifetime. I loved my ex-husband when I married him 20 years ago, but then I learned how to love myself better. When that happened I had to let him go.
    I believe I found my soulmate at age 49, and ten years later I feel even stronger about that. I trust him with my heart, my soul and my life. I know this does not happen to most people, and that makes it seem even more precious.

  6. Jennifer Minnick

    Insightful stuff. I can relate a lot to your experience with your ex-husband.

    My husband and I divorced last year after almost 25 years of marriage. I knew deep down that, while I cared about him very much, I didn’t “LOVE” him. I even suspected that he didn’t really “LOVE” me. But we did love each other in our own ways, and we were both happy and content for many years. We raised 2 wonderful children, and we still care about each other. We are like really good old friends. But the truth was, I was in love with someone from my past. Someone I loved so much that giving in to it at the time scared me. Which is why we didn’t end up together.

    Fast forward a quarter of a century later…I have reunited with that long lost love, and I am now happier than I’ve ever been. It feels like a great wrong has been righted. Like a missing piece of me has been found. (not sure if these means we are soul-mates, or just that our love was cut off prematurely and not able to run it’s normal course).

    But I don’t regret those 25 years with my Ex. And my current partner and I have discussed in length our earlier relationship. We both agree that at the time neither of us were mature enough to make our relationship last. And we are both bringing into our current relationship lessons we learned from our failed marriages.

    Love, like faith, can not be quantified. No one can dictate how real your love is or how true your faith is based on what they see.

  7. leannelc

    I think we have turned “soul mates” into some sort of nirvana and no love is enough unless we have some sort of undying spiritually exclusive high all the time. To me, enduring and committed love is what counts – being prepared to stick it out and stay connected through thick and thin is so much more real than Romeo and Juliet. Great post 🙂

  8. Haralee

    What works for some people doesn’t work for others. It is hard not to be judgmental with ourselves. I had 2 friends loose their husbands to illness this year and their grieving and moving on has been opposite to each other. Another example of different coping and emotional ways for different people.

  9. Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen)

    Oh my goodness this is SO. PERFECT. And so fitting for me. I have had two therapists, after I explain my relationship (of 23 years marriage/five years dating prior) call my spouse “a sperm donor.” UM, NO. Nope nope nope. (And I haven’t really gotten up the nerve to write about it in my blog because I just think it could be considered hurtful by several people). Therefore, thank you for giving voice to a question many of us undoubtedly ask ………


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